Spineless

Rob Lowe

From Charles C.W. Cooke:

It just gets worse. Yesterday evening, I lamented the astonishing news that the American film industry was being dictated to by a bunch of North Korean hackers. At the time of writing, the following had happened:

First, Sony Pictures, which produced the film, canceled tomorrow’s inaugural showing. (“Security concerns,” natch.) Then the Carmike Cinemas chain, which owns 278 theaters in 41 states, announced that it would not be showing it at all. In the last few hours, the Hollywood Reporter has suggested, the other four giants of American cinema — Regal Entertainment, AMC Entertainment, Cinemark, and Cineplex Entertainment — elected to join in the boycott. And, finally, the studio pulled the December 25 release entirely

Now, per Reuters, Sony has pulled the whole thing:

Sony Pictures has canceled the release of a comedy on the fictional assassination of North Korea’s leader, in what appears to be an unprecedented victory for Pyongyang and its abilities to wage cyber-warfare.

Hackers who said they were incensed by the film attacked Sony Corp (6758.T) last month, leaking documents that drew global headlines and distributing unreleased films on the Internet.

Washington may soon officially announce that the North Korean government was behind the attack, a U.S. government source said.

This decision is not restricted to theaters:

“Sony has no further release plans for the film,” a Sony spokeswoman said on Wednesday when asked whether the movie would be released later in theaters or as video on demand.

In other words, a group of computer experts — which may or may not be backed by the North Korean government — has managed to convince a major American industry to write off a $44 million investment because . . . they don’t like some of its jokes. How utterly grotesque. How shameful. How antithetical to all of those principles for which the people of the United States are supposed to stand.

Worse still, those hackers have managed to convince Hollywood to cancel future projects, too. Deadline Hollywood reports:

The chilling effect of the Sony Pictures hack and terrorist threats against The Interview are reverberating. New Regency has scrapped another project that was to be set in North Korea. The untitled thriller, set up in October, was being developed by director Gore Verbinski as a star vehicle for Foxcatcher star Steve Carell. The paranoid thriller written by Steve Conrad was going to start production in March. Insiders tell me that under the current circumstances, it just makes no sense to move forward. The location won’t be transplanted. Fox declined to distribute it, per a spokesman.

If this is to be our approach, why not formalize the arrangement and run every script idea past our enemies before production starts? In fact, why not submit all creative speech to the roving gangs of outrage merchants and armed hecklers to which our appeasement is granting hope? I daresay that most books, movies, newspapers, television shows, and websites contain material that someone doesn’t like. Why not include them in the party, too? Sure, by the time that an idea has been scrutinized by Tehran, Moscow, and the University of Berkeley it will probably have been stripped of all its charm. But we wouldn’t want anybody to be upset, would we?

I’ve heard people arguing that this reflects “only on Sony.” But it doesn’t, really. It reflects on the many, many theater chains that canceled their screenings. It reflects upon a general corporate culture that is just too damn risk averse. And it reflects upon the zeitgeist, within which caving to pressure from the “offended” has become the unlovely norm. We are now reaching a point at which no college commencement speaker is permitted to do his thing unless he has been neutered, read whatever catechism is en vogue this week, and then had his entire past vetted by the most boring, self-indulgent, ignorant people in the world. George Will wasn’t allowed to speak at Scripps because a few of its students objected to a column he’d written in a newspaper. What exactly did we think was going to happen when the censors threatened to turn up with guns?

America doesn’t feel very free, or very brave, today.

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The Sacred Circle of the Oppressed

From Stanley Kurtz:

What do America’s college students want? They want to be oppressed. More precisely, a surprising number of students at America’s finest colleges and universities wish to appear as victims — to themselves, as well as to others — without the discomfort of actually experiencing victimization. Here is where global warming comes in. The secret appeal of campus climate activism lies in its ability to turn otherwise happy, healthy, and prosperous young people into an oppressed class, at least in their own imaginings. Climate activists say to the world, “I’ll save you.” Yet deep down they’re thinking, “Oppress me.”

In his important new book, The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse: Save the Earth, Punish Human Beings, French intellectual gadfly Pascal Bruckner does the most thorough job yet of explaining the climate movement as a secular religion, an odd combination of deformed Christianity and reconstructed Marxism. (You can find Bruckner’s excellent article based on the book here.) Bruckner describes a historical process wherein “the long list of emblematic victims — Jews, blacks, slaves, proletarians, colonized peoples — was replaced, little by little, with the Planet.” The planet, says Bruckner, “has become the new proletariat that must be saved from exploitation.”

But why? Bruckner finds it odd that a “mood of catastrophe” should prevail in the West, the most well-off part of the world. The reason, I think, is that the only way to turn the prosperous into victims is to threaten the very existence of a world they otherwise command.

And why should the privileged wish to become victims? To alleviate guilt and to appropriate the victim’s superior prestige. In the neo-Marxist dispensation now regnant on our college campuses, after all, the advantaged are ignorant and guilty while the oppressed are innocent and wise. The initial solution to this problem was for the privileged to identify with “struggling groups” by wearing, say, a Palestinian keffiyeh. Yet better than merely empathizing with the oppressed is to be oppressed. This is the climate movement’s signal innovation.

We can make sense of Bruckner’s progression of victimhood from successive minorities to the globe itself by considering the lives of modern-day climate activists. Let’s begin with Bill McKibben, the most influential environmental activist in the country, and leader of the campus fossil-fuel divestment movement.

In a 1996 piece titled “Job and Matthew,” McKibben describes his arrival at college in 1978 as a liberal-leaning student with a suburban Protestant background. “My leftism grew more righteous in college,” he says, “but still there was something pro forma about it.” The problem? “Being white, male, straight, and of impeccably middle-class background, I could not realistically claim to be a victim of anything.” At one point, in what he calls a “loony” attempt to claim the mantle of victimhood, McKibben nearly convinced himself that he was part Irish so he could don a black armband as Bobby Sands and fellow members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army died in a hunger strike. Yet even as he failed to persuade himself he was Irish, McKibben continued to enthusiastically support every leftist-approved victim group he could find. Nonetheless, something was missing. None of these causes seemed truly his own. When McKibben almost singlehandedly turned global warming into a public issue in 1989, his problem was solved. Now everyone could be a victim.

Wen Stephenson, a contributing writer at The Nation and an enthusiastic supporter of McKibben’s anti-fossil-fuel crusade, is one of the sharpest observers of the climate movement. In March, Stephenson published a profile of some of the student climate protesters he’d gotten to know best. Their stories look very much like McKibben’s description of his own past.

Stephenson’s thesis is that, despite vast differences between the upper-middle-class college students who make up much of today’s climate movement and southern blacks living under segregation in the 1950s, climate activists think of themselves on the model of the early civil-rights protesters. When climate activists court arrest through civil disobedience, they imagine themselves to be reliving the struggles of persecuted African Americans staging lunch-counter sit-ins at risk of their lives. Today’s climate protesters, Stephenson writes,“feel themselves oppressed by powerful, corrupt forces beyond their control.” And they fight “not only for people in faraway places but, increasingly, for themselves.”

One young activist, a sophomore at Harvard, told Stephenson that she grew up “privileged in a poor rural town.” Inspired by the civil-rights movement, her early climate activism was undertaken “in solidarity” with Third World peoples: “I saw climate change as this huge human rights abuse against people who are already disadvantaged in our global society. . . . I knew theoretically there could be impacts on the U.S. But I thought, I’m from a rich, developed country, my parents are well-off, I know I’m going to college, and it’s not going to make a difference to my life. But especially over this past year, I’ve learned that climate change is a threat to me.” When one of her fellow protesters said: “You know, I think I could die of climate change. That could be the way I go,” the thought stuck with her. “You always learn about marginalized groups in society, and think about how their voices don’t have as much power, and then suddenly you’re like, ‘Wait, that’s exactly what I am, with climate change.’”

The remaining biographical accounts in Stephenson’s piece repeat these themes. Climate activists see themselves as privileged, are deeply influenced by courses on climate change and on “marginalized” groups they’ve been exposed to in high school and college, and treat the climate apocalypse as their personal admissions pass to the sacred circle of the oppressed.

It may be that these activists, eyes opened by fortuitous education, are merely recognizing the reality of our impending doom. Or might this particular apocalypse offer unacknowledged psychic rewards? These students could easily be laid low by an economic crisis brought on by demographic decline and the strains of baby-boomer retirement on our entitlement system. Yet marriage and children aren’t a priority, although they could help solve the problem. Why? Many dooms beckon. How has climate change won out?

Last academic year, the National Association of Scholars released a widely discussed report called “What Does Bowdoin Teach? How a Contemporary Liberal Arts College Shapes Students.” The report chronicles what I’ve called a “reverse island” effect. Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the classic liberal-arts curriculum first came under challenge, courses in ethnic and gender studies were like tiny islands in a sea of traditionalism. Politicized in ways that were incompatible with liberal education, these ideologically based “studies” programs were generally dismissed as necessary concessions to the nascent multicultural zeitgeist.

Today the situation is reversed. Not only have the ideologically driven “studies” programs taken over a large share of the college curriculum, but many courses in conventional departments reflect the underlying assumptions of the various minority-studies concentrations. Today, classic liberal-arts courses have themselves been turned into tiny besieged islands, while the study of alleged oppression represents the leading approach at America’s colleges and universities.

In this atmosphere, students cannot help wishing to see themselves as members of a persecuted group. Climate activism answers their existential challenges and gives them a sense of crusading purpose in a lonely secular world. The planet, as Bruckner would have it, is the new proletariat. Yet substitute “upper-middle-class” for “planet,” and the progression of victimhood is explained. Global warming allows the upper-middle-class to join the proletariat, cloaking erstwhile oppressors in the mantle of righteous victimhood.

Insight into the quasi-religious motivations that stand behind climate activism cannot finally resolve the empirical controversies at stake in our debate over global warming. Yet understanding climate activism as a cultural phenomenon does yield insight into that debate. The religious character of the climate-change crusade chokes off serious discussion. It stigmatizes reasonable skepticism about climate catastrophism (which is different from questioning the fundamental physics of carbon dioxide’s effect on the atmosphere). Climate apocalypticism drags what ought to be careful consideration of the costs and benefits of various policy options into the fraught world of identity politics. The wish to be oppressed turns into the wish to be morally superior, which turns into the pleasure of silencing alleged oppressors, which turns into its own sort of hatred and oppression.

What do American college students want? I would like to think they are looking for an education in the spirit of classic liberalism, an education that offers them, not a ready-made ideology, but the tools to make an informed choice among the fundamental alternatives in life. The people who run our universities, unfortunately, have taught their students to want something different, and this is what truly oppresses them.

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Tearing at the Very Fabric of the Constitution

From The Patriot Post:

Barack Obama claims to be a “professor of constitutional law,” but a genuine constitutional scholar, George Washington University’s Jonathan Turley, a self-acknowledged liberal Obama supporter, has offered severe criticism of Obama’s “über presidency,” his abuse of executive orders and regulations to bypass Congress.

When asked by Fox News host Megyn Kelly how he would respond “to those who say many presidents have issued executive orders on immigration,” Turley responded, “This would be unprecedented, and I think it would be an unprecedented threat to the balance of powers.”

In July, Turley gave congressional testimony concerning Obama’s abuse of executive orders: “When the president went to Congress and said he would go it alone, it obviously raises a concern. There’s no license for going it alone in our system, and what he’s done is very problematic. He’s told agencies not to enforce some laws [and] has effectively rewritten laws through active interpretation that I find very problematic.”

He continued: “Our system is changing in a dangerous and destabilizing way. What’s emerging is an imperial presidency, an über presidency. … The president’s pledge to effectively govern alone is alarming but what is most alarming is his ability to fulfill that pledge. When a president can govern alone, he can become a government unto himself, which is precisely the danger that the Framers sought to avoid in the establishment of our tripartite system of government. … Obama has repeatedly violated this [separation of powers] doctrine in the circumvention of Congress in areas ranging from health care to immigration law to environmental law. … What we are witnessing today is one of the greatest challenges to our constitutional system in the history of this country. We are in the midst of a constitutional crisis with sweeping implications for our system of government. There could be no greater danger for individual liberty. I think the framers would be horrified. … We are now at the constitutional tipping point for our system. … No one in our system can ‘go it alone’ – not Congress, not the courts, and not the president.”

Turley reiterated this week: “[Obama has] become a government of one. … It’s becoming a particularly dangerous moment if the president is going to go forward, particularly after this election, to defy the will of Congress yet again. … What the president is suggesting is tearing at the very fabric of the Constitution. We have a separation of powers … to protect Liberty, to keep any branch from assuming so much authority that they become a threat to Liberty. … The Democrats are creating something very, very dangerous. They’re creating a president who can go it alone – the very danger that are framers sought to avoid in our Constitution. … I hope he does not get away with it.”

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Obama(care)’s Pack of Lies

From Charles Krauthammer:

It’s not exactly the Ems Dispatch (the diplomatic cable Bismarck doctored to provoke the 1870 Franco​–​Prussian War). But what the just-resurfaced Gruber Confession lacks in world-historical consequence, it makes up for in world-class cynicism. This October 2013 video shows MIT professor Jonathan Gruber, a principal architect of Obamacare, admitting that, in order to get it passed, the law was made deliberately obscure and deceptive. It constitutes the ultimate vindication of the charge that Obamacare was sold on a pack of lies.

“Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage,” said Gruber. “Basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass.”

First, Gruber said, the bill’s authors manipulated the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which issues gold-standard cost estimates of any legislative proposal: “This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes.” Why? Because “if CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies.” And yet, the president himself openly insisted that the individual mandate — what you must pay the government if you fail to buy health insurance — was not a tax.

Worse was the pretense that Obamacare wouldn’t cost anyone anything. On the contrary, it’s a win–win, insisted President Obama, promising that the “typical family” would save $2,500 on premiums every year.

Skeptics like me pointed out the obvious: You can’t subsidize 30 million uninsured without someone paying something. Indeed, Gruber admits, Obamacare was a huge transfer of wealth — which had to be hidden from the American people, because “if you had a law which . . . made explicit that healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed.”

Remember: The whole premise of Obamacare was that it would help the needy, but if you were not in need, if you liked what you had, you would be left alone. Which is why Obama kept repeating — Politifact counted 31 times — that “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan.”

But of course you couldn’t, as millions discovered when they were kicked off their plans last year. Millions more were further shocked when they discovered major hikes in their premiums and deductibles. It was their wealth that was being redistributed.

As NBC News and others reported last year, the administration knew this all along. But White House political hands overrode those wary about the president’s phony promise. In fact, Obama knew the falsity of his claim as far back as February 2010 when, at a meeting with congressional leaders, he agreed that millions would lose their plans.

Now, it’s not unconstitutional to lie. But it is helpful for citizens to know the cynicism with which the massive federalization of their health care was crafted.

It gets even worse, thanks again to Gruber. Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case claiming that the administration is violating its own health-care law, which clearly specifies that subsidies can be given only to insurance purchased on “exchanges established by the state.” Just 13 states have set up such exchanges. Yet the administration is giving tax credits to plans bought on the federal exchange — serving 37 states — despite what the law says.

If the government loses, the subsidy system collapses and, with it, Obamacare itself. Which is why the administration is frantically arguing that “exchanges established by the state” is merely sloppy drafting, a kind of legislative typo. And that the intent all along was to subsidize all plans on all exchanges.

Reenter professor Gruber. On a separate video in a different speech, he explains what Obamacare intended: “If you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits.” The legislative idea was to coerce states into setting up their own exchanges by otherwise denying their citizens subsidies.

This may have been a stupid idea, but it was no slip. And it’s the law, as written, as enacted and as intended. It can be changed by Congress only, not by the executive. Which is precisely what the plaintiffs are saying. Q.E.D.

It’s refreshing that “the most transparent administration in history,” as this administration fancies itself, should finally display candor about its signature act of social change. Inadvertently, of course. But now we know what lay behind Obama’s smooth reassurances — the arrogance of an academic liberalism that rules in the name of a citizenry it mocks, disdains, and deliberately, contemptuously deceives.

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Tom McClintock on the Propositions

Representative Tom McClintock’s recommendations for the November 2014 California ballot propositions:

Prop 1 – Water Bond: YES. This is a long way from a perfect measure, but it’s as good as it gets in California these days: a $7.5 billion water bond that spends $2.7 billion for new water storage. If that sounds breathtakingly underwhelming, remember that’s $2.7 billion more than the multi-billions of dollars of water bonds that we’ve spent in recent years. Sadly, it doesn’t overhaul the environmental laws that vastly inflate costs and it squanders a great deal more that won’t be used for storage, but it is a step away from the lunacy of the green left (that adamantly opposes it) and this alone merits support.

Prop 2 – Stop Us Before We Screw Up Again: YES. This repeals Prop 58, a vat of Schwarzenegger snake-oil sold to voters as the panacea to the state’s budget woes. It wasn’t. (My I-told-you-so moment). Prop 58 promised an iron-clad reserve, but in reality, the governor could suspend it any time he wanted. He did. (Oops, I did it again). What I like most about Prop 2 is that to raid the required budget reserve, both the governor AND the legislature must agree and then, only for a specifically declared emergency. In a nutshell, it requires the legislature and governor to do what they did voluntarily during the Deukmejian era. Still plenty of loopholes, but better than what we have today.

Prop 45 – If You Thought Obamacare Was Bad: NO. This is a trial lawyers measure that give the state insurance commissioner the power to set health care rates. Sound good? Doctors and other health care providers are already opting out of Obamacare because of artificially low rates; this compounds the problem for California. The good news it you’ll have cheap health insurance. The bad news is you won’t have a lot of providers accepting it.

Prop 46 – If You Thought Prop 45 Was Bad: NO. Another trial lawyers measure that quadruples the amount they can get for pain and suffering awards. Prop. 45 means lower provider reimbursements and Prop. 46 means higher provider costs. It also requires drug testing for doctors, which is a stupid idea but I appreciate the poetic justice in making THEM pee into little cups for a change. Anyway, it won’t matter because your doctor will be out of state.

Prop 47 – Rose Bird’s Revenge: NO. We’ve gone overboard on some drug-related offenses, but this Proposition can only be described as a drug-induced hallucination. It reduces many grand-theft crimes to misdemeanors and would release an estimated 10,000 incarcerated criminals back on the streets. Basically, it is a burglar’s get-out-of-jail free card. Good news for alarm companies and the handful of 60’s radicals nostalgic for Rose Bird – bad news for the rest of us. Hide the silver.

Prop 48 – Freedom Works: YES. This ratifies Indian Gaming compacts for two tribes in economically depressed regions of the state that will be an economic boon to the struggling local communities there. It also cuts through environmental red tape that would otherwise delay these projects for years.

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The Farce

From VDH:

It was tragically comical that the commander in chief in just a few weeks could go from referring to ISIS as “jayvee” and a manageable problem to declaring it an existential threat, in the same manner he upgraded the Free Syrian Army from amateurs and a fantasy to our ground linchpin in the new air war. All that tragic comedy was a continuance of his previous untruths, such as the assurance that existing health plans and doctors would not change under the Affordable Care Act or that there was not a smidgeon of corruption at the IRS.

But lately the Obama confusion has descended into the territory not of tragedy or even tragic comedy, but rather of outright farce.

Last week we learned from the Washington Post that an investigator looking into the Secret Service prostitution scandal was ordered by the inspector general “to withhold and alter certain information in the report of investigation because it was potentially embarrassing to the administration.” The “embarrassing” information was the allegation that a member of the White House staff advance team had solicited a prostitute while prepping Obama’s Colombia visit — a fact denied by then-White House Press Secretary Jay Carney in April 2012, when he assured the press that no one from the White House was involved in the scandal that brought down lots of Secret Service and military personnel.

But here is where the farcical kicks in. The squelched investigation was focused on White House staffer Jonathan Dach. And who is Dach? He was at the time a young Yale law student and White House staffer, and is now a State Department activist working on — what else? — “Global Women’s Issues.”

And how did young Jonathan Dach at the ripe age of 25 years land such a prestigious job as a presidential advance man? His father, Leslie Dach, was a lobbyist who gave the Obama campaign $23,900 and was later hired on to work with Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. And, of course, Leslie Dach now has left his job lobbying for Wal-Mart. And where does he work now? For the Obama administration. Promoting what? Obamacare.

Here is the essence of the Obama administration’s abyss between word and deed: in the age of the war on women and the end to lobbyists in government, the feminist young aide is alleged to have solicited a prostitute; the most transparent administration in memory covered that fact up during the reelection campaign; the president who promised to end the revolving door and ban lobbyists from government hired not just a one-percenter lobbyist and donor, but his randy son as well.

Can it get much richer than that? Unfortunately, it can — literally, as we’ll explore on the next page.

Recently, Barack Obama offered yet another fundraiser to his small circle of billionaires at the 20-acre gated estate of — again, this is no joke — Rich Richman. Some of Richy Rich’s bundled donors paid over $32,000 to see and touch Obama, who lectured the assembled Connecticut one percent of the one percent. And what did he lecture them on? Of course on “billionaires” and their mean war on the middle class.

Not long ago President Obama flew into Fresno, Ground Zero of the California drought. Did he offer federal help for more dam, canal, and reservoir construction? Hardly. Did he offer to help build coastal desalination plants? Nope.

Instead, he gave a brief lecture about global warming and offered $160 million in aid to ameliorate its effects, although almost all California climatologists associate the state’s unusual three-year drought with oceanic and atmospheric conditions unrelated to climate change, especially given the fact that the planet at large has not heated up in the last 18 years.

After briefly stopping in Fresno for a few hours, where did Barack Obama go next to emphasize the global-warming roots of our drought, and the irrelevancy of building more storage space to mitigate the atypical absence of snow and rain?

Naturally, he jetted in to see Jordan’s king at one of the most artificial environments in the world — verdant Rancho Mirage in the scorching Palm Springs area desert, an artificial landscape entirely irrigated through vast manmade water transfers via canals from the Colorado River. And why did Obama detour to such a landscape incongruous with the drought-stricken state? To play more golf, reminding us that while new reservoirs are not needed, and while burning carbon fuels is the culprit, golf courses in the middle of deserts are perfectly natural destinations for climate-change believers who arrive on huge jets to putt on irrigated greens for a few hours. Rumors then flew that Obama so liked Rancho Mirage’s drought-proof, irrigated attractions that he pondered retiring at a gated estate there.

Why such farce? We have forgotten two truths about the Obama administration. No president in recent memory has so hectored the American people on the dangers of elites, and no president in the last half-century has so enjoyed the perks and culture of the elite. Unfortunately, this is not just mindless hypocrisy, but rather calibrated medieval exemption: the more Barack Obama berates the high life of others, the more he feels he deserves it for himself.

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